I was going to do this month's challenge a week ago Saturday, but got busy with other things so I put it on the calendar for this past Sunday. While I was driving home from my cooking class on Sunday afternoon I realized I was on the fence about doing the challenge. What? I absolutely love baking and it brings me so much joy, but sometimes the challenges are not something I would normally choose to make. There are pros and cons to this. I like it when it allows me to step out of my comfort zone and practice a new technique or learn how certain ingredients work together, but sometimes there are other factors that get in the way. It could be ingredients, degree of difficulty, time commitment, or the fact it just is not appealing to me and I would never make it again. These are some of the things that "get in the way" and don't get me fully charged up to attempt the challenge. Once I start baking, though, I usually mellow out a little!
As a blogger, I find that at times the joy of cooking and baking is diminished as I pay so much more attention to taking photos as I go along, making notes if I tweak a recipe, writing up posts and choosing and editing photos for a post. Life is busy. We all know that. It is all time consuming and like many others I try to balance a lot. In regards to my blog, there is so much I want to do from appearance to marketing that I keep going back and forth on what it is I want to focus on. If only I did not have to work! For January, with encouragement from my husband, I decided I would stick to my commitment to Daring Bakers and give the Nanaimo Bars a try!
The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars Nah-nye-Moh) as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and City of Nanaimo. Nanaimo Bars are a classic Canadian dessert created in Nanaimo, BC. Given that the 2010 Winter Olympics will be in Vancouver, it seems quite an appropriate time to showcase this dessert.
This month's challenge had two parts to it. The mandatory challenge was to make our own graham wafer crackers to be used in the base of the bars. These are similar to what we in the U.S. know as graham crackers. The optional challenge was to make the graham wafer crackers gluten free. I opted not to make the gluten free version as I did not have the gluten free flours and did not want to be left with a bunch of ingredients I would probably not use again.
These no bake bars are comprised of three layers:
- Base: butter, sugar, cocoa, egg, graham cracker crumbs, almonds, and coconut
- Middle: custard like
- Top: chocolate
In seeing some of my fellow Daring Bakers share their completed challenges with us on the forums I decided I would mix up the ingredients just a little. While cooking I do this all the time, but with baking I have yet to experiment a lot. I had leftover pistachios from Christmas time so I turned to The Flavor Bible to see what went with pistachios. Cranberries were an option and I had some on hand so I replaced the almonds and coconut with pistachios and dried cranberries. I contemplated putting the cranberries in the base or the middle layer. I went for the base, but I think if I made this flavor combo again I would add them to the middle layer to add some color and texture since the base already had both. The end result is a very rich almost candy like bar and the pistachios and cranberries added a nice flavor. Pistachios are not an overpowering nut so I was pleased with the outcome. I did cut the cranberries up, but since I used dried ones they did a little chewiness. Having already cut the bars (photo above) and then tasting, I ended up cutting them in half as there is just a lot of rich sweetness going on in these bars!
The challenge was not overly complicated, though time consuming due to the fact we had to make our own graham crackers. Once the crackers are baked and cooled the bars come together fairly quickly, though you do need to allow some time for them to set. You can cut your crackers/wafers into any shape you like. I used a circular cutter with a scalloped edge just to dress them up a little. You will have a lot of leftover crackers since the recipe only calls for 1 1/4 cups of graham cracker crumbs. They are a wonderful addition all by themselves or with an afternoon cup of tea.
One thing I did notice was that my middle layer did not seem as "custard like" as many of the other Daring Bakers'. I could have added some additional milk to make it less thick, but it tasted fine so I kept it as is. On a funny note, my top layer took three try's. Um, the easiest layer of these bars. Mind you I made these late on Sunday after spending 4 hours on my feet in cooking class and in while making dinner. Trying to make myself feel a little better here. Probably not the smartest think to try to balance baking graham crackers, making dinner (a new recipe that I was also taking photos of as I went along), and making the middle and top layer to these bars. The recipe said melt chocolate and butter over low heat, cool, and pour over middle layer. Well, I skipped over the word pour and went to spread on my melted chocolate. Hmmm... this is sort of thick and does not seem like there is enough. Went back to the recipe and saw the word "pour". Grabbed some more chocolate and butter and opted for the microwave as I melt chocolate that way a lot. You know what is a bad smell? Burnt chocolate!! I have never in my life burned chocolate. I was in a rush and did so this time. So, back to the sauce pan with some more chocolate and butter. I slowed down a little and focused on the main task at hand and before I knew it I had pourable melted chocolate, not spreadable melted chocolate :)!
So, after my little breakdown I am glad that I did do the challenge and was pleased with the results. I enjoy reading the posts on our forum to see what success and challenges my fellow Daring Bakers experienced. Would I make them again? I think so. For the Nanaimo bars I would not make my own graham crackers. I thought the graham crackers tasted very good on their own, but I don't think I could tell the difference if I used my homemade vs. store bought in the bars. I was thinking the graham cracker dough could be used as a slice and bake type cookie/cracker. Perhaps the addition of cinnamon to the dough or a cinnamon and sugar mixture sprinkled on top before baking. The important thing for me is that I walk away with two new recipes that have given me ideas for other desserts! Thank you Lauren for this challenge!
For the full recipe and directions, click here.
Be sure to check out my fellow Daring Bakers from around the world by clicking here.